What exactly is the Force? If we take a look just at the movies, we were all introduced to the concept of the Force by Obi Wan in ANH. Here is what he said:
“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together” -Obi Wan in ANH
Let’s dissect that for a minute. If the Force is created by all living things, then it is in some ways powered by living things. Furthermore, if it penetrates us, it must travel through us and inside us. On the other hand, it also binds the galaxy together, meaning it must extend far beyond living things. This is perhaps the beginning of the distinction between the Living Force, the part that is created by all living things, and the Cosmic Force, the part that binds the galaxy together and surrounds us.
We get a little more clarification of this distinction in the Clone Wars: Lost Missions. Well, a lot more clarification. When Qui Gon appears to Yoda as orbs of light he provides this description:
“I am a manifestation of the Force. A Force that consists of two parts. Living beings generate the Living Force, which in turn powers the wellspring that is the Cosmic Force” Qui Gon Jinn to Yoda in TCW: Lost Missions
So in a way, this pretty much says the same thing as I’ve clarified above, but perhaps more poetically. It isn’t until the PT that we get this distinction of the Force. In the OT, we only have the fact that there is a Light Side and a Dark Side of the Force. The distinction here is pretty simple. The Light Side of the Force is working through the Force symbiotically (mutual advantage), and the Dark Side of the Force is trying to manipulate it for your own benefit (personal advantage).
Connected to the Living Force, we have the much maligned concept of the midicholorians from the PT, that helps to explain where the Living Force comes from. Bear with me here briefly for those of you that don’t like this concept because it relates to what I just said above about the Light and Dark sides. The midicholorians are basically mentioned/explained twice in the Star Wars saga (or at least in two films) and in both times, there were basically explained to Anakin. In TPM, we have Qui Gon explaining to Anakin that the midicholorians are symbionts that reside in all living cells. In RotS, we have Palpatine telling Anakin about Darth Plagueis and the fact that he could “manipulate the midicholorians to create life”. This is interesting, because this makes the midicholorians and our relationship to them a metaphor for the Light and Dark sides of the force! Symbiosis/balance vs manipulation for self-benefit. This would suggest that the Living Force could have components in both the Light and Dark Side (presumably the Cosmic Force as well).
It’s important to underscore the fact that the midichlorians are not the Force, but rather like an antennae that we use to interact with the Force, and part of how our bodies create the Living Force. The Force is still an energy field that exists independent of us and exists independently of the midicholorians. Kind of like how a magnet generates a magnetic field, and interacts with other external magnetic fields, but the magnet is not the magnetic field.
The Force can thus be separated into two axes in the following diagram:
Now we get to “The Balance of the Force”. What does that mean exactly? And how does this relate to the new movies? There are some out there that still think that the balance of the Force somehow means that there are an equal number of Light Side and Dark Side users in the galaxy, like there are at the beginning of ANH. This isn’t the case, however. The balance of the Force specifically refers to no Sith. In case there are people that doubt this, let’s examine the movies:
“You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.” -Obi Wan Kenobi, RotS
It’s pretty tough to argue with the meaning of the balance of the Force after you read this quote. The chosen one balancing the Force means destroying the Sith. But maybe some people might think that since these are two different sentences, that they are not talking about exactly the same thing. Well that would be all well and good except for the fact that the same thing was said in AotC:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: With all due respect, Master, is he not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?
Mace Windu: So the prophecy says.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, George Lucas clarifies this in the introductory documentary for the Special Edition of ANH:
“Which brings us up to the films 4, 5, and 6, in which Anakin’s offspring redeem him and allow him to fulfill the prophecy where he brings balance to the Force by doing away with the Sith and getting rid of evil in the universe…“ George Lucas
So if we go back to the diagram, it balance doesn’t mean the center. It means the top, with the Light Side of the Force. So all along the PT, we have quotes from the PT suggesting that the Jedi are weakened due to this imbalance, like this exchange in AotC:
Mace Windu: I think it is time we inform the senate that our ability to use the force has diminished.
Yoda: Only the Dark Lord of the Sith knows of our weakness. If informed the senate is, multiply our adversaries will.
So the reason why the Dark Lord of the Sith knows of their weakness is because he is the one diminishing their power! He is the one taking it out of balance. The Sith are like a cancer, that takes over the Force and uses it for its own propagation, the Jedi are like mitochondria (or midicholorians) acting symbiotically with the Force.
So given that during the PT, and in fact continuing through the OT, we have the Jedi weakened, we can only assume that at the end of the OT we have the Force return to its natural state. This could be a state where Jedi are even more powerful than what we’ve seen the in the OT. Could this mean that Luke is now some kind of a super-Jedi in TFA? Actually early on there were reports of this, but it doesn’t sound like this has panned out given the current rumors that are out there. Nevertheless, the Jedi could be more powerful in TFA than they were in both the PT and the OT.
One interesting point related to this that was recently discussed by Jason Ward of MSW during the latest podcast, is it suggests that if the Knights of Ren and Snoke are Dark Side users, then they must have not existed, or at least were not powerful during the OT. The reason is they would have also taken the Force out of balance just like the Sith. I tend to agree with this because otherwise, it pretty much means that the Prophecy of the Chosen One didn’t work out, which was pretty much the point of the saga so far, and the point of the ending of RotJ in my mind.
This is also why we know that Kylo Ren and Snoke are not Sith, as was recently confirmed. If they were, the Force would still be out of balance and this would nullify the significance of Anakin’s sacrifice at the end of RotJ. Now I will say that the destruction of the Sith, and the extremely low numbers of remaining Jedi does create a “power vacuum” (note to self, idea for the title of Episode VIII: The power vacuum of the Force! No wait, that sucks) that was just waiting to be filled by the Knights of Ren and Snoke, and possibly others.
At first, when I heard the title of “The Force Awakens”, I thought it referred to the fact that after coming back into balance at the end of the OT, the Force would awaken, giving rise to all these new super powers for the Jedi. Maybe this is still the case, but it sounds like the quote from Snoke heard at the beginning of the first teaser trailer for TFA that there was an awakening that they felt at some point during the film, possibly at the end. Also, the awakening pertains to both “the dark side, and the light” according to this quote, suggesting that it is something other than balance. Maybe it is something else entirely. I think one possibility is that Finn and Rey start tapping into the Force, leading to an awakening in them. We also recently hypothesized that it was the destruction of the StarKiller base that allows for Jedi to once again use the Force, hence an awakening in the Force. Time will tell what all this means, but speculation is half the fun!